Milk and Honey Magazine interview with 'Riley Unlikely' author on her Kenya mession nonprofit, her faith, her favorite Bible verse, and her future plans and goals in Christ!

Riley Unlikely

Amy Cummins

Creating and running a non-profit is an accomplishment in and of itself, but Riley Banks-Snyder started one when she was just 14 years old. Really. She took her first trip to Kenya when she was 13 to serve at a neonatal unit and a school, and she remembers seeing babies being fed from medicine cups instead of bottles and an entire class sharing a single pencil due to a lack of resources. The experience created a deep desire within her to aid the people she met there. So, after returning to her home in Branson, Missouri, she started Generation Next as a vehicle for her to collect and deliver backpacks of school supplies and girls’ hygiene kits to the Kenyans she had met. 

From its simple beginnings, Generation Next has developed and grown far beyond Riley’s initial plans for it. In addition to providing school supplies and hygiene kits, the non-profit also now runs its own school and is working on establishing a community center in Kibwezi, Kenya as well. 

Now 20 and married, Riley’s life has changed in many ways since she started Generation Next as a teen, but she continues to work tirelessly for the non-profit, and her life is an amazing testimony of the difference that one person can make in the world. Her new book, Riley Unlikely: With Simple Childlike Faith, Amazing Things Can Happen gives an inspiring look into the faith that has guided and sustained her efforts to serve God through her work and her life.

Here, we chat with Riley to find out more about her accomplishments, her faith, and what she’s learned through her journey.

Get to know Riley!

Milk and Honey Magazine interview with 'Riley Unlikely' author on her Kenya mession nonprofit, her faith, her favorite Bible verse, and her future plans and goals in Christ!

You started Generation Next at the age of 14. What was your initial goal for it?

After returning from Kenya, I remember going to different businesses (not being a non-profit at the time) and asking for donations. They all wanted to see our tax-exempt papers, though, so that’s what got us to start Generation Next as a non-profit. When we first started, we were just looking for school supplies and backpacks. We did school box drives at the end of the school year for kids to donate their unused school supplies, and during our first year, we collected 200 backpacks and all-new school supplies. Since then, we also started doing hygiene kits for young women so they can stay in school.

What’s next for GN?

Recently, we purchased a community center in Kibwezi and are working on farming that land. We’ve got about five acres and we want to be able to farm that to create a feeding program. We also want to start a sewing program for women there who are widowed or aren't married or need a job. Eventually, we even want to add a sports section to the community center for kids to play basketball and football and volleyball. Basically, we want it to be an outlet for anyone in the community to be able to come to if they need help, and we want it to be a place where people can come and experience the love of Christ through the people working there, too. 

Tell us what a day in your life looks like.

We have a thrift store here in Branson, so I’ll work there a few days a week, and all of the proceeds go towards Generation Next. So I spend most of my time sorting the clothes that come in throughout the week, and then just doing different fundraisers and speaking at different churches on the weekends, or at different clubs or groups that invite us to share more about Generation Next. We’re always trying to get the word out more about Generation Next!

You open up about being unable to have children in the book. Tell us about that.

I found out I couldn’t have children when I was a junior in high school, at the age of 16, so at the time I didn’t really understand how it would affect my future. I knew it was a big thing, but I don’t think I realized right away what a huge impact it would have on me. I’m 20 now and I’m married and so thinking about it now is harder than it was when I was 16, but even then I remember walking into school and there were already girls who were pregnant and just thinking, “God, why me? What is your purpose in this?” 

Thankfully, I had a lot of amazing friends and family who were willing to listen to me and answer the questions that were frustrating me. I remember a conversation with one friend in particular who told me, “I just don’t think God would have put you in Kenya at 13 years old — a place where there are so many kids without moms — without a reason. He put you in this place where you can have more children than you could ever have by yourself.” 

Those words stuck with me. I still struggle with it, but finding God’s purpose in this has helped me handle it a lot better. 

How has your time in Kenya impacted your faith?

I remember asking my mom about going to Kenya when I was 13 and she was like, “You know, I don’t see why not. We have family over there and it would be a really good opportunity for you to get to go and serve.” It’s funny because a lot of people who knew me at the time were like, “Wow, Riley Banks is going to Kenya. She doesn’t like to talk to anybody, she’s quiet, she’s shy.” It was crazy for people to hear that I was doing that, but God gave me the opportunity, and as crazy as it sounded, I had to take advantage of it and I ended up falling in love with it. When we’re out of our comfort zone and serving the Lord like that, crazy things do happen and there’s so much joy in it. It gave me a totally new understanding of God’s love for me and other people.

What encouragement do you have for other women who want to make a difference? 

My encouragement would be to be as open as possible to what God has planned for you. His plans may seem crazy, and you may think there’s no way He could use you, but you’d be surprised; He can use us in any way He wants. We just have to have an immense amount of faith. Often we sit around and doubt ourselves and what we can do, but it’s important to understand that He’s not going to give us anything we can’t handle. His love for us is so much bigger than we know. Trust in Him and what He has planned for you. 

Favorite Bible verse? 

The one that I relied one most when I was diagnosed with MRKH - Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans for you, declares the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It’s something to live by daily - to know that God’s got a definite plan no matter what the day holds for you. 

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